Immediately after arriving at the local swimming pool, your first instinct is likely to throw on your swimsuit and jump in. In fact, this may be what you normally do, with the possible exception of layering on some sunscreen beforehand.
But have you ever stopped to think of showering before swimming? What about after?
It’s recommended that you shower both before and after swimming. Showering before swimming is a common courtesy to everyone else in the pool and keeps the water free of germs. Showering after swimming minimizes the risk of skin rashes or infections and prevents dried out hair and itchy skin.
These reasons for showering immediately before and after swimming will be explored to a greater extent below. Then, we will delve into the statistics to see how many people actually follow this advice, along with whether this advice specifically pertains to swimming pools or all general swimming areas.
Why You Should Shower Before Swimming
To start off, let’s take an in-depth look at the reasons why showering prior to swimming is a must. Hopefully, these reasons convince you that pre-swim showers do in fact make a difference in your overall health and the general safety of the pool.
Common Courtesy to Everyone Else in the Water
For one, showering prior to swimming is seen as a polite consideration of those around you that also want to enjoy the pool.
The ugly truth is that while you may think you’re clean enough to go into the pool without showering, it is far more likely that there are a number of disconcerting impurities persisting on your body. Examples of such impurities include:
- beauty products
- natural body oils
If you choose not to shower, you’re only contributing to the filthy gunk that’s slowly gathering in the pool. You may think that this is what pool chemicals—namely chlorine—are there for, but the fact of the matter is that these pool chemicals can only do so much.
Have you ever gone to the pool and been bombarded with a distinct smell? If you have, you more than likely assumed this to be the normal smell of chlorine. This is actually not the case.
Contrary to popular opinion, this chemical is not due to chlorine, but chloramine (source). For those of you that do not know, chloramine is the chemical compound that’s produced when chlorine interacts with unwanted impurities present within the water, like the beauty products, natural body oils, and sweat mentioned before.
Thus, the distinct smell of chloramine is indicative of a pool that’s in need of further treatment. You may be surprised—and maybe even somewhat disturbed—to find that a well managed pool has absolutely no odor whatsoever.
If you weren’t aware of this, you aren’t alone. The Water Quality & Health Council conducted a survey about this very topic, asking people whether this peculiar “pool smell” means that the water is clean for swimmers. The results showed that 38% of respondents were under the false assumption that this chloramine smell is characteristic of a well-kept pool (source).
In short, don’t contribute to chloramine buildup and this offbeat pool smell, as you are detracting from the swimming experience of others.
Keeps the Water Free of Germs
Aside from common courtesy, showering before swimming also helps to maintain pool water quality and stop the spread of illness.
Unfortunately, swimmers that don’t shower not only bring their beauty products, natural body oils, and sweat into the pool, but any traces of fecal matter and urine remaining on their body. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average person has approximately 0.14 grams of feces on their body at any given time (source).
Needless to say, this fecal matter carries germs into the water, which can contaminate any other individuals who decide to take a swim. Anybody that accidentally contacts or ingests this contaminated water is at risk for getting diarrhea. Sadly, the presence of this kind of contaminated water is more prevalent that you might think, as diarrhea is the most common recreational water illness (source).
Obviously, at least some germs are bound to find their way into the water. Nonetheless, showering beforehand clears away many of these germs and greatly reduces the amount of contaminants brought into the water.
It cannot be emphasized enough that it takes time for pool disinfectants to get rid of germs. Plus, if there are multiple kinds of impurities in the pool—such as beauty products, natural body oils, and sweat—the present chlorine levels may not be sufficient enough to eliminate these more serious types of germs.
If you get a strong whiff of the smell of chloramine, this is most likely the case at your pool. To reiterate, this smell has arisen because a high amount of chlorine has interacted with other impurities in the pool, becoming chloramine in the process. With less chlorine around to attack the more severe types of germs—like Cryptosporidium, Legionella, and Pseudomonas for example—chances are that your health is paying the price.
In short, don’t rely on pool disinfectants to keep the pool clean. If you want to swim without fear of contracting illness, do your part and shower. It also won’t hurt to encourage others to do the same.
Why You Should Shower After Swimming
Now that you’re intimately familiar with the reasons why showering before swimming is necessary, let’s move on to the reasons why post-swim showers are just as important.
Minimizes Risk of Developing Skin Rashes or Infections
As aforementioned, certain germs are bound to sneak their way into the pool, regardless of whether or not everyone showers before their swim. For this reason, there’s still a chance that unhealthy germs have found a way onto your skin and remained there, even after you’ve left the water behind.
It is in your best interest to remove these unhealthy germs from your body as soon as possible. This way, they won’t have much of an opportunity to multiply, fester, and manifest itself as a skin rash or infection.
Fortunately, showering is a viable means of removing this harmful bacteria from the skin.
Just make sure to keep your shower brief, as protracted showers may actually wash off the protective bacteria that wards off infection (source).
In addition, protracted showers tend to dry out the skin, which may pave the way for cracked skin that’s vulnerable to infection. A shower that lasts five to ten minutes should give you more than enough time to cleanse yourself of all the remaining germs left on your skin.
Lingering Pool Chemicals Dry Out Hair and Cause Itchy Skin
Furthermore, germs are not the only bothersome thing that can be picked up from the pool. Pool disinfectants, such as chlorine, can have a negative impact on your hair and skin if they’re not taken care of promptly after a swimming session.
When it comes to hair, there’s no question that chlorine compromises the structural integrity of hair strands. Hair strands are stripped of their natural oils when exposed to chlorine (source). Consequently, these same hair strands look and feel dry, rather than retaining its normally healthy looking appearance.
Not only that, but chlorine has also been known to change hair color. Since chlorine is a form of bleach, hair color may lighten if it is exposed to enough chlorine over time. This hair lightening process is accelerated if a swimmer fails to promptly remove the chlorine from their hair with a shower.
So, if you want to both maintain the strength of your hair and sustain your natural hair color, post-swim showers are a good place to start.
With the skin, rashes may develop if there are high amounts of pool chemicals concentrated on the skin. A prime example of this can be seen with the onset of a chlorine rash.
A chlorine rash arises with continual exposure to chlorine, like when there’s a lingering element of chlorine left on the skin following a swim (source). Over time, this steady exposure results in irritation, resulting in itchiness, redness, and tenderness.
Although bathing is not guaranteed to remove any and all pool chemicals remaining on your hair and skin, it’s certainly better than not addressing the problem whatsoever.
Is Rinsing Off Sufficient to Keep Yourself (& the Pool) Healthy?
Often times, when people learn of the benefits of showering before and after swimming, they often wonder if rinsing off achieves these very same benefits.
The overarching goal of showering pre-swim and post-swim is to strip away any harmful impurities from the body, regardless if they’re artificial, man-made products or natural bodily substances. This way, these impurities aren’t brought into the pool, where large numbers of people are congregating throughout the day.
If you’re truly set on removing as many of these contaminants from your body as possible, showering with soap and shampoo is the way to go. Soap and shampoo are designed to lift grime off of bodily surfaces so that the water can carry this filth away (source).
You don’t quite get the cleansing power with a simple rinse-off as a thorough shower with soap and water.
With that being said, a simple rinse-off is better than nothing at all! Believe it or not, recent research has shown that showering without soap may in fact be better for your skin health. In one study, soap use was shown to (source):
- increase skin pH to unhealthy levels
- eliminate healthy bacteria
- rid the body of its natural oils
Although not as effective at freeing up grime, dousing yourself with pure water (without soap) before and after a swim can still remove tiny amounts of smut lingering on your body.
Is Showering Before and After Swimming the Norm?
Even with all of the positives that come with pre-swim and post-swim showers, you may be surprised to find that the majority of people don’t bathe as much as they should when it comes to swimming.
This shocking finding was revealed when the Water Quality & Health Council sent out a nationally representative survey to 1000+ Americans.
It is clear that not everyone shares the same perspective when it comes to the relationship between showering and swimming. Hopefully, this perspective will evolve in the future, as more swimmers become enlightened as to how much of a problem pool contamination can be.
Does This Only Apply to Pools, or Swimming Areas in General?
Pools are not the only places where people swim frequently. For some of you, it’s more common to swim in open bodies of water, such as lakes, rivers, and oceans. This begs the question: Should you shower before and after swimming in open bodies of water?
The short answer is yes, you should shower before and after swimming regardless of the particular body of water. If you think about it, all of the same risks and rewards apply.
As a hypothetical example, let’s say you choose to forgo showering before swimming in a lake. In this case, you carry all of the lingering contaminants on you straight into the lake, where everyone else is swimming. This lowers the water quality and puts others at risk of illness.
The same holds true if you were to forgo showering after swimming in the lake. Without the added protection of pool chemicals, you’re left even more vulnerable to potential infectious agents. Plus, animals and fish have a tendency to dispose of their waste wherever they please, including open bodies of water. Therefore, it’s doubly important for you to thoroughly cleanse yourself following a dip in the lake.
Shower before and after swimming to protect your own personal health and the health of other swimmers around you. This might not be considered the norm just yet, but someone has to step up and lead the swimming community in the right direction!
All content written by HydroPursuit is for informational purposes only. The material found on this site is not intended to replace professional medical advice, treatment, or diagnosis. Consult with an accredited health care provider prior to initiating a new health care regimen.